College Transfer Credits

We are making a catalytic impact on the issue of transfer credits by enabling students who transfer between City University of New York (CUNY) colleges, which well over two-thirds of New York City public school students attend, to count their previously earned credits toward degree requirements at their new institution. Since we spotlighted this issue, 5 other NYC based foundations as well 3 major national foundations (Susan and Michael Dell, ECMC and Ascendium) have supported major expansions of this work in New York and across the Country.

Over a third of college students transfer at least once yet, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office report, approximately 43% of credits earned at a previously attended institution are lost when students transfer, making transfer students far less likely to graduate. This disproportionately affects low-income students because lost credits often result in their running out of financial aid before they have enough credits in a major study area to graduate—federal (Pell) and New York State (TAP) grants stop after a certain number of years and require that a student make a particular amount of progress towards a degree each year. So, if a student does not receive full credit for two years of college upon transfer, he/she has, in effect, “wasted” essential federal and state financial aid and is likely to run out of aid before reaching graduation. Our support has led to:

  • The creation of Transfer Explorer, which for the first time makes transparent and accessible to the public the course equivalencies and program requirements involved in transferring between any combination of CUNY colleges. Transfer Explorer has been accessed by hundreds of thousands of unique users since its launch in May 2020.
  • The creation of databases, updated daily, tracking the time between steps in students’ transfer process and changes in how students’ credits count toward their degree.
  • Programs at specific CUNY campuses, including Hostos Community College, Bronx Community College and Lehman College which has resulted in a dramatic improvement in share of transfer students who were able to count all of their transfer credits toward their Lehman degrees and decreased the length of time it takes to evaluate transfer credits.
  • Creation of a transfer pathway to the best business program in the CUNY system, the Zicklin School at Baruch College from the largest CUNY community college, Borough of Manhattan Community College.
  • Elimination of barriers that had existed in transfer from Kingsborough Community College to Brooklyn College.
  • Expansion to additional CUNY campuses: Guttman Community College, Queens College, and Queensborough Community College.
  • Widespread adoption within CUNY of a program called AcMo 2.0 to focus on transfer credit issues and has attracted other funders including the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and the Robin Hood Foundation.

In 2022 we invested in a 3-year plan aimed at expanding the project scope and Transfer Explorer to include systems beyond CUNY, facilitating a transfer community of practice, and incorporating business intelligence into the site such that users are presented with analysis, options, and guidance tailored to a student’s unique circumstances.

In 2022, Ithaka S+R released a study outlining the impact of the project: Archiving Degree Audit Data to Measure and Reduce Lost Transfer Credit, and Grantmakers for Education selected it from among 138 submissions for its national conference. In 2023, Christopher Vickery, professor emeritus of computer science at Queens College, wrote in Inside Higher Ed about the power of Heckscher-funded Transfer Explorer (“T-Rex”).

In 2023, we expanded our transfer work to the SUNY system. We supported the development of a pipeline from Nassau Community College and Suffolk County Community College to Farmingdale State College that provides an accessible pathway to community college students seeking to pursue a bachelor’s degree. As part of the program, Farmingdale faculty will teach courses on the campuses of these community colleges.

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